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Olympics Want Some Chicago Skin

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Message Dave Zirin

ANYBODY GOT $500 million collecting dust under the couch? If you live
in Chicago, take a second look between those cushions. The United
States Olympic Committee (USOC) has let it be known that the people of
the Windy City could pay out as much as $500 million if they are
awarded the 2016 Summer Games.

Chicago's Olympic Chairman Patrick Ryan harrumphed that there was no
chance of this, since--by his logic--the Olympics don't lose money.
They make money. He said that the Summer Games have never incurred
debt, and "we would have to be the first really incompetents to do

Leaving aside Ryan's clear grudge against grammar, one has to wonder
whether he learned Olympic history at the feet of Beavis and Butthead.
The unassailable truth is that the Olympics treat cities like Dick
Cheney treats hunting buddies. As Sports Illustrated's Michael Fish
wrote, "You stage a two-week athletic carnival and, if things go well,
pray the local municipality isn't sent into financial ruin."

Ryan doesn't have to believe this, but as the saying goes, he also
doesn't have to believe in gravity to fall out of a plane. When the LA
Olympics turned a profit in 1984, it was widely remarked how it was
the first city to end in the black since 1932. Montreal, the host city
for the 1976 games still swims in Olympic red. Athens, Greece, will be
in debt from the 2004 spectacle until the resurrection of Zeus.
Chicago's Big Boss Man, Mayor Richard Daley, has yipped repeatedly
that the Olympics would not cost taxpayers a dime. Daley is either
lying or high (or both?). During a recent USOC evaluation visit, an
Olympic executive said the city's residents should expect to reach
into their pockets and put some "skin in the game."

What a disturbing yet bizarrely apt metaphor. Any time someone asks
you for some "skin," and you're not acting in a 1970s blaxploitation
flick, it's probably wise to run the other way. But it's also apt. The
Olympics always want their pound of flesh. Ryan eagerly leaped onto
this metaphor like a vampire in a slaughterhouse. "You have to comply
with what rules they establish, what they say it takes to win," he
said with relish. "Now we know it takes city skin in the game to win!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
BUT THERE are some residents who think that the people of this great
city have given quite enough skin, not to mention blood and tears. A
group of activists calling themselves Black People Against Police
Torture (BPAPT) wants to keep the Olympics out. BPAPT doesn't oppose
the games on economic grounds, but instead is raising the issue
embodied by its name. The group argues, "A city which tortures its own
residents does not deserve the Olympics."

BPAPT points to the sick legacy of Officer Jon Burge and his command
who tortured hundreds in a station house nicknamed the "House of
Screams." As the Chicago Reader reported, "The detainees were Black;
almost all of the accused police officers were white. The cops beat
them with phone books, flashlights, and rubber hose, put guns to their
heads, and administered electric shock, often targeting the genitals."

Some brave whistleblowers attempted to contact the county state's
attorney. The state's attorney ignored their pleas. That state's
attorney was named Richard Daley. BPAPT wants Daley to explain this
dark corner of his past. They want to know why Burge still gets a
pension. They want Chicago's record of torture known by those awarding
the Olympics.

They also have a powerful ally: 1968 Olympian Dr. John Carlos.
Carlos is perhaps best known for being one half of the famous Black
power salute at the 1968 games in Mexico City. "I want the mayor to
get off his fanny and address this issue," said Carlos. "He was the
state's attorney when this torture was taking place. The mayor needs
to step up to the plate and get this thing resolved." BPAPT makes a
powerful argument. But they should also point out that if Chicago were
in fact "honored" with the Olympics, a resurgence of police repression
would surely follow.

It's a very familiar script. Political leaders start by saying that a
city must be made "presentable for an international audience." Then
police and security forces get the green light to round up
"undesirables" with extreme prejudice. It's as much a part of the
games as that damn torch.
When the 1936 Olympics came to Hitler's Berlin, the "unpresentables"
were placed in concentration camps for the duration of the games. Some
never left. In 1984, LA Police Chief Daryl Gates oversaw the jailing
of thousands of young Black men in the infamous "Olympic Gang Sweeps."
In 1996, the Atlanta games were supposed to demonstrate what President
Clinton called "The New South." The New South ended up looking a lot
like the old one, as officials jailed thousands of homeless men and
women without just cause. Repression followed the Olympic rings to
Greece in 2004. Psychiatric hospitals were forced by the government to
lock up those deemed mentally ill. In addition, Greece actually
overrode its own constitution by "allowing" thousands of
armed-to-the-teeth paramilitary troops from the U.S., Britain, and
Israel. But the most heartless example of Olympic repression came in
1968 in Mexico City, where hundreds of Mexican students and workers
occupying the National University were slaughtered in the Plaza de las
Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco.

The slogan for the Olympics has always been stronger, faster, better.
It's really guns, greed and graft. The people of Chicago certainly do
not deserve the Olympics. They deserve far better.

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Dave Zirin, Press Action 's 2005 and 2006 Sportswriter of the Year, has been called "an icon in the world of progressive sports ". Robert Lipsyte says he is "the best young sportswriter in the United States. " 

Dave writes about the politics of sports for the Nation Magazine, and is author of Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love

You can receive his column Edge of Sports,
every week by going to

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